Article by Cardinal Seán Brady on the Northern Ireland Peace Process
“The current political impasse, with the failure of the Executive to meet in recent months, is damaging…. It is undermining those who believe Northern Ireland has a brighter future.”
Earlier this year I visited a small Catholic parish in the middle of Gaza City. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. In the midst of desolation brought about by years of conflict I was inspired by young and old alike who spoke of hope for the future. What moved me most was the number of people who looked to Northern Ireland as a reason for their hope. The same experience has been repeated many times over as I meet people from across the world. They look to Northern Ireland as a sign that when people are determined to search for peace it can be achieved.
Here at home it is easier to lose sight of how much has been achieved in recent years. Despite the obstacles and detours along the way, we really do enjoy a better present and a more hopeful future than was imaginable just a few years ago. As a society we have made enormous steps on the journey to a brighter, more peaceful future. This is something to celebrate, something I believe everyone with the good of society at heart will want to build on and secure.
The challenge today is to remain committed to that journey. The Bible speaks of peace as a ‘way’, something we strive towards and work for step by step. Each step on that journey is a challenge. It is seldom easy. It can even demand some personal or political cost. As we have discovered in Northern Ireland, it is not always easy to choose compromise over stalemate, to choose generosity over self-interest, or forgiveness over revenge, the common good over party-political good. Yet these are profoundly Christian values. They are the steps which when taken with courage have allowed all of us to move to a more stable future. The challenge now, I believe, is to continue that momentum, to continue to show the generosity, mutual understanding and commitment to a future based on fairness and co-operation which has brought us to the better present we now enjoy.
Let’s be clear absolutely clear about one thing. The current political impasse, with the failure of the Executive to meet in recent months, is damaging this hope. It is undermining those who believe Northern Ireland has a brighter future, especially the young who want to stay and build their lives here. It also encourages those who want to promote the failed ideologies of the past. It gives space to those who promote the lie that violence has something to offer our future. The current impasse encourages those who believe the future can be based on something other than power-sharing and institutions which give due recognition to the two main political aspirations which have been at the heart of the conflict here for centuries.
One of the most important steps on the journey we have made so far has been the creation of a representative police service for Northern Ireland, a police service with independent oversight and the prospect of direct accountability to a locally elected administration. Everyone in our society, irrespective of their political or religious affiliation, has benefited immensely from a Police Service which is now more representative, accepted and supported. Policing is an essential part of any society. When provided with integrity and impartiality it is a service to the common good. It is part of a Christian vision of society. Those who have taken up the vocation of policing, from whichever section of the community they come, deserve our complete encouragement and support. They deserve our support in ensuring their actions and attitudes meet the high ideals and standards which all traditions in our society rightly expect of them. Those who actively target members of the PSNI in an attempt to destroy the progress made in recent years, challenge the very principles of a just and a free society. When the people of Ireland, north and south, voted in such overwhelming numbers to support the Good Friday Agreement ten years ago, they repudiated once and for all any resort to violence for political ends. Those who have the interests of a just and peaceful future for all the people of this island at heart must reject these evil and deliberate attacks on members of the PSNI. They are immoral and a direct challenge to the overwhelming and freely expressed will of the people of Ireland. Anyone with information about those involved in such attacks has a clear moral duty to give that information to An Garda Síochána or the PSNI.
There is a real danger that as the years go on in Northern Ireland, we will forget the futility, destruction and misery wrought by the violence of the past. This is especially true for the young. It is critical that we never allow the violence of the past to be glamorised. It brought nothing but despair. It set back the prospects of justice, peace and freedom with every violent word and action. This means that the issue of state-sponsored violence and the continued presence of armed loyalist paramilitaries also have to be addressed. The seeming patience of those with political responsibility and influence on loyalist paramilitaries in terms of decommissioning stands in stark contrast to their approach to other paramilitary groups. Continued suspicions within the Catholic community about the relationship between certain sections of the security services and loyalist paramilitaries also undermine the efforts of all to build a more just and stable future. Both these issues need to be addressed urgently and comprehensively.
Two Sundays from now Christians around the world will celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the period of preparation for the feast of Christmas. On that Sunday they will hear the Prophet Isaiah tell of a time when people will beat their swords into ploughshares, their weapons of war into instruments of a great harvest of peace for all the people. My prayer as Christmas approaches is that all those with an interest in the greater good of our society, will find the way and have the courage to take the next step on the road to peace. It may be the one that matters most. It will certainly give people in Gaza, the Holy Land and other places around the world another reason to hope.
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)